Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC, SEARAC Encouraged By Restoration of Prosecutorial Discretion

Washington, DCAsian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) welcome the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Texas last week, which will reinstate prosecutorial discretion at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for immigration arrests. The policy guidance was first issued in 2021 by the Biden administration but suspended in 2022 by the lawsuit; it outlines factors that DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should consider when deciding to arrest and deport someone, including a number of factors recommended by the Advancing Justice Affiliation, SEARAC, and other Asian and Southeast Asian American advocacy groups in a previous letter to the agency, like the impact of deportation on family members.
“For two decades, our communities have fought to end the deportations of Southeast Asian refugees and have their humanity recognized. The prosecutorial discretion memo was a testament to that work,” said Quyên Đinh, executive director at SEARAC. “We are encouraged that the Supreme Court’s decision will help keep more of our families whole, but we recognize that PD is just one part of stopping the unjust deportations of Southeast Asian Americans. Even with this guidance in place, our country still leaves too much power and authority to ICE agents to still remove our community members. SEARAC will continue to work with community members, our partner organizations, and policymakers to overhaul racist immigration policies and ensure that our communities can reunite and heal.”
“The Supreme Court recognized that this lawsuit, brought by anti-immigrant Attorneys General, was not only ‘extraordinarily unusual,’ but also legally unjustifiable,” said Martin Kim, Director of Immigration Advocacy at Advancing Justice – AAJC. “We are gratified that the overwhelming majority of the Court agrees that there is no legal basis for states to force the federal government to make more immigration arrests. While this guidance does help provide a measure of stability to some of our immigrant communities, we urge Congress to pass and for the President to sign reforms to the United States’ draconian immigration enforcement system. The exercise of prosecutorial discretion is not enough.”
Click here for a community explainer on United States v. Texas and here for a fact sheet on prosecutorial discretion by the National Immigration Project.

SEARAC Condemns Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Hateful Muslim Travel Ban

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Administration’s travel ban on individuals from Muslim-majority countries. Building on the White House’s coordinated attacks on immigrants and refugees, this decision promotes a discriminatory policy that impacts communities of color. 
“This Supreme Court ruling is an affront to America’s values of compassion and justice-the same values that facilitated the resettlement of over one million Southeast Asian refugees more than 40 years ago,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “We mourn with our Muslim brothers and sisters who now face prolonged family separation and who are unable to flee from violence and persecution in their home countries. In solidarity with immigrant and refugee communities, we call for immigration policies that align with our country’s core principles: liberty and justice for all.”

Community Alert: Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order on Cambodian Deportations

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping the deportations of Cambodians picked up in the recent ICE raids as part of a class action lawsuit. Deportations are blocked until a court hearing on January 11.
While this is a huge victory for Cambodian families who were facing separation from their loved ones before the holidays, the decision is temporary in nature. It is meant to buy time for families to continue pursuing legal avenues of relief. Please read this guidance by the Asian Law Caucus for individuals approaching their 90th day in detention or their post-order custody review (POCR). It provides an explanation of the process as well as instructions on how to put together a POCR packet for your loved one to demonstrate that they are not a flight risk or a threat to public safety. For more information, contact Melanie Kim at

Cambodian Deportations to Begin

December 6, 2017

Katrina Dizon Mariategue, Immigration Policy Manager, 202-601-2968

Cambodian Deportations Confirmed to Begin in December
Record-Breaking Number of People to be Deported Next Year

Washington, D.C. – Cambodia’s immigration department recently confirmed that more than 70 Cambodians from the U.S. will be deported in the month of December. Sources say that this will likely happen in two batches, with the first group of about 50 to be removed in the next few weeks prior to the holidays. Additionally, a total of 200 people are expected to be removed in 2018. Since the deportation of Cambodians began decades ago, the number removed in a year has never exceeded 89.1 This group of 200 will be the largest group to ever be deported in one year in both U.S. and Cambodian history.

This aggressive removal of refugees follows visa sanctions issued by the U.S. on Cambodia in September for refusing to comply with the repatriation of deportees. While community members had hoped that Cambodia would stand strong under U.S. pressure to protect these communities, the threat of visa sanctions seems to have escalated deportations even more.

“We condemn the deportation of refugees and the separation of families,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “This heartless move by both the U.S. and Cambodian governments to terrorize people right before the holidays is deplorable. We denounce the further escalation of removals next year and stand ready to fight with our community to expose this injustice and demand a change to laws that allow for the ongoing detention and deportation of our community members.”

This news of deportations devastates several Cambodian families who have been separated from their loved ones for months, only to find out that they may never see them again. Lisa Kum’s husband was detained in October after ICE came to their door to arrest him. He had finally come home in August after being in detention for almost eight months. “I was pregnant and had our daughter for the majority of the time he was in prison and immigration detention shortly after,” said Lisa. “The day he came home to us was such a happy day because he finally got to meet our sweet baby girl. But now, my daughter may grow up without her daddy, and I live with the real possibility of being a single mom for the rest of my life. This will be our second Christmas without him due to being in ICE detention. The laws that allow for this to happen are so unfair.”

For months, grassroots organizations in both the Cambodian and Vietnamese communities have been working to support families whose loved ones were detained by providing resources, sharing information, and pushing congressional leaders to take a stand. This news comes as a shock for many local organizers.

“Our communities are suffering during a time in the year that should be about family, togetherness, and joy”, said Sarath Suong of the Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN). “Instead, we are seeing parents being ripped apart from their children. We are seeing homes get broken up by detention and deportation laws that repeatedly re-traumatize refugees and our families.”

The Vietnamese community is also dealing with the shock of deportations before the holidays. Despite a U.S.-Vietnam MOU that precludes the deportation of refugees who arrived to the country prior to 1995, a few individuals who fit under this category have been recently issued travel documents. This has galvanized the Vietnamese community to also fight back.

“We stand with our loved ones in the Cambodian community and will continue to organize and mobilize the Vietnamese community to keep fighting with them,” said Nancy Nguyen of the Vietnamese Anti-Deportation Network. “We can no longer be divided. Now is the time for all Southeast Asian American communities to come together and unite with black and brown communities to fight this Administration’s attack on all of us.”

[1]Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, “U.S. Deportation Outcomes by Charge, Completed Cases in Immigration Courts : & Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “Yearbook of Immigration Statistics”

Take Three Actions for Cambodian and Vietnamese Families:

1. Call your members of Congress to denounce these deportations by doing the following:

  • Identify your congressional leaders
  • Here is what you can say: “My name is ____ from (City, State). I am calling Representative/Senator (Name) to ask that he/she take a public stand against the detention and deportation of Southeast Asian refugees to Cambodia and Vietnam. The round up of community members began in October and impacts refugees that came to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. They grew up as lawful permanent residents and have transformed their lives by putting past mistakes behind them, contributing to their communities, and supporting U.S. citizen family members. (Consider inserting a personal story if you have one.) They do not deserve to be torn apart from their loved ones during the holidays. Will you issue a statement or sign onto a letter circulating in Congress denouncing these deportations?
  • If they say yes, notify to follow up.

2.     For Organizations: Sign this Letter to DHS Demanding a Stop to Southeast Asian DeportationDeadline: Wednesday, December 12, 12pm EST.

3.     For Individuals: Sign the following petitions:

Community Call 11/15: Fighting Deportation Round-Ups

Fighting Deportation Roundups: 
Tools, Tips, and Resources for Impacted Southeast Asian American Families
Register Now
The recent roundups of Cambodian and Vietnamese community members for deportation have left many families overwhelmed, frightened, and looking for concrete actions to support their loved ones. SEARAC is working closely with Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus to provide families with resources and connect them with legal counsel to explore options to fight deportation.
But when there are no legal avenues for relief left, what can families proactively do to continue fighting?
SEARAC and community advocates will share tips and best practices for family members who are seeking an answer to this exact question. We will also provide an honest analysis of the opportunities and risks of advocacy under a Trump Administration.
Join us for a webinar on Wednesday, November 15 at 12pm PST/3pm EST. Register here for webinar information.
We will be joined by the following speakers:

Joint Community Alert: Vietnamese Vulnerable to Deportation

Joint community alert from:
VietLead, APIROC, Mekong-NYC, VietUnity-East Bay, VietUnity-South Bay, Dorchester Organizing Training-Initiative, SEARAC
See Vietnamese version here.
At this time, we believe that Vietnamese community members with final removal orders are vulnerable to potential arrest, detention, and deportation. ICE has used more aggressive tactics such as threatening community members with self-deportation and forcing folks to sign Vietnamese citizenship applications. Over last several weeks, ICE has re-arrested individuals with final removal orders that they were unable to deport in the past.
We have learned that on on September 21, 2017, the United States submitted 95 cases to the Government of Vietnam for processing and at the end of October 2017 into November 2017, a Vietnamese delegation will arrive in the United States to conduct interviews in Georgia. We know these cases include both pre-1995 and post-1995 cases.
Please be aware:
  • If you have a final removal order, do not leave the country. Seek immediate legal help if you have traveled outside of the country in the past (see pro bono legal list below).
  • If you have loved ones who will soon be released from prison, or are currently in detention, seek legal support.
  • If you are going for a check in, do not go alone – have family, friends, and local organizations accompany you.
If you have a final order of removal and ICE has notified you of a new check-in date, please contact Asian Law Caucus at (415) 896-1701, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles at (888) 349 9695 or in Vietnamese at (800) 267-7395. They can help you assess the risk that you may be detained and assist you in planning for that possibility.
ICE is threatening all of our communities – but they are coming for the Southeast Asian community in ways we have not seen before. It’s time to join together and organize! Gather community members and prepare to tell your story. See SEARAC’s recent community alert on similar round ups happening in the Cambodian community for ideas on concrete things you can do in your own communities. Don’t let our stories go untold!
  • We are more powerful together. Join an organization! Reach out for more information locally in your area, or give us a call: Northern California: VietUnity-PACT (408-858-1311); Southern California: APIROC; East Coast: Dorchester Organizing & Training Initiative; VietLead (267-713-9089); Mekong-NYC (347-918-9220)
  • Call your  Congressional leaders today (make sure to call both of your Senators and your Congressperson) to ask them to help stop deportation of our community members!
Other Resources:

a strong community is an organized one

Community Alert: Cambodian Consulate to Begin Interviews for Deportation – Hotline Available for Detainees

This month the Trump administration has rounded up over 100 Cambodian Americans across the country for deportation. The Cambodian consulate is conducting interviews from October 17 – November 11 at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana, where many Cambodian Americans have now been transferred.

If your loved one is detained at the LaSalle facility, please ask them to call the Southern Poverty Law Center pro-bono hotline by simply dialing 388#. Volunteers will be available to conduct intake and record their information to share with legal advocates working to challenge these detentions.
Trump’s mass deportation force is impacting the Vietnamese American community as well. We urge the community to take action to demand that lawmakers denounce deportations in the Southeast Asian American community. Hold your elected officials accountable to protecting their most vulnerable constituents.
Here’s What You Can Do:
1. Call your  Congressional leaders today (make sure to call both of your Senators and your Congressperson).
2. Here’s what you can say:
“My name is ____ from (City, State). I am calling Representative/Senator (Name) to alert him/her of the mass round-ups for deportation happening in the Southeast Asian American community. A majority of those impacted entered the U.S. as refugees after the Vietnam War, and grew up as lawful permanent residents. They are transforming their lives and putting past mistakes behind them, contributing to their communities, and supporting U.S. citizen family members (consider inserting a personal story if you have one). They do not deserve to be torn apart from their loved ones. Will your office issue a statement denouncing these deportations?”
If they say yes or ask for more information, notify  to follow up with them.
3. Consider doing an in-district meeting with your lawmaker to discuss the issue more fully.
4. Host a phone bank in your city to encourage people to place phone calls.
For any follow up questions or support, email

SEARAC Applauds “Dignity for Detained Immigrants” Act

Today, Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-7) and Adam Smith (WA-9) introduced the “Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act,” legislation that would repeal mandatory, arbitrary, and indefinite detention, phase out private detention facilities, require the establishment of detention standards and improve oversight, and establish program alternatives to costly detention.

Since 1998, over 16,000 Southeast Asian Americans have been issued final orders of removal, but due to the unique relationship between the U.S. and Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, many are detained for prolonged periods of time as the U.S. government tries to deport them. While Cambodia accepts a limited number of deportees per year, Laos does not have a formal policy accepting deportees, and Vietnam only accepts individuals who entered the U.S. after 1995, protecting a majority of those who fled the country as refugees.

Photo: Nam Nguyen and his family

One individual who endured prolonged detention as a result of this policy is Nam Nguyen. Nam was only 8 years old when he fled Vietnam by boat and spent several years in refugee camps before he was sponsored to live in the United States. He entered the country as an unaccompanied child, seeking asylum with no parents to care for him. After spending several years being transferred from one group home to the next, Nam settled and grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Southern California where he struggled to adjust without strong role models or guardians in his life.

When Nam was 17 years old, someone he did not know got into a verbal argument at a pool hall where he and his friends were hanging out. A number of shots were fired. Although nobody was hurt, Nam and eleven other people were pulled over and charged for assault with a firearm. Nam was advised to plead guilty, without understanding that a guilty plea could later result in deportation. He served his time and was placed on probation. In 1996 at the age of 20, just two months before his probation expired, Nam violated his probation and served 16 months of an additional two-year prison term for drug possession. In 1997, Nam was paroled, but he was immediately detained by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). The detention was indefinite – four years later a Supreme Court decision mandated his release.
“I still remember vividly the terrible conditions that we were subjected to under ICE detention,” said Nam Nguyen. “We were abused, harassed, and targeted by both fellow detainees and ICE correctional officers for being ‘indefinite lifers.’ We were transferred multiple times, subjected to racial slurs, and denied basic hygiene needs and food. We were forced to sleep in concrete holding cells with no blankets. And worst of all, we had no way to complain or file grievances for fear of retribution. Looking back, I am so remorseful for all I have done, and I take full responsibility for my past actions. But none of us deserved that treatment. I am grateful for champions like Reps. Jayapal and Smith for recognizing that detainees deserve dignity and rights, too.”
Years later, Nam turned his life around by disconnecting himself completely from past friends and influences that could have led him back to prison. He started a family and dedicated himself to his Christian faith. Nam became a pastor and started his own ministry called Loi Song Tin Lanh (A Christian Lifestyle) with over 11,000 online followers. Nam also supports his U.S. citizen wife and two children by managing a large retail store that serves the Vietnamese community. In 2017, Nam became a graduate of SEARAC’s Leadership and Advocacy Training program where his story of detention and transformation inspired others to stand in support of reforming unjust detention and deportation policies.
“Nam’s story and many others like it are all too common but also silenced in the Southeast Asian American community,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “Many young children who came to the country as refugees have had to grow up with no support, no mentors, and in many cases, no family members to depend on, leading many youth directly into the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline. Instead of finding solutions that target the root causes of these challenges, our country’s current detention policies only further strip young people and their communities of dignity and humanity. We applaud the efforts of Reps. Jayapal and Smith in introducing legislation that addresses the issue of mandatory detention and seeks to create humane detention standards.”

BREAKING: Chamroeun Phan of #ReleaseMN8 Finally Released to His Family

September 22, 2017

Mari Quenemoen, SEARAC,, 202-578-7963
Montha Chum, #ReleaseMN8,, 651-387-1065
Julie Mao, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild,, 202-792-6610


St. Paul, MN – After more than 387 days in immigration detention, Chamroeun Phan of Maplewood, MN, came home to his family on Monday. In May, Phan’s immigration attorney, Mai Neng Moua, successfully argued that Phan’s deportation to Cambodia should be cancelled because of the undue hardship it would cause his family. But the Trump administration appealed the immigration judge’s ruling and refused to release him from detention. As part of the #ReleaseMN8 campaign, Phan’s release Monday came as the result of intense community advocacy and legal challenges.

Montha Chum, Phan’s sister and a lead organizer with #ReleaseMN8, stated, “We are so thankful and relieved to have Shorty back home with us.” Chum continued, “Chamroeun’s release, only by the grace of God, shows the power of community organizing and effective advocacy. The #ReleaseMN8 community, along with our national supporters such as MijenteSoutheast Asian Freedom NetworkNational Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, stood by us every step of the way, and refused to let Chamroeun be deported without a fight.”
Phan added, “God never gave up on me.  My family never gave up on me. I can’t even express how grateful I am for the community support, from the Twin Cities to all across the country, thank you so much. God is so good!”
Community members and families of eight Minnesota men slated for deportation to Cambodia a year ago mobilized multiple protests and vigils to defend the men, all of whom came to Minnesota as child refugees. Five of the men have since been deported to Cambodia, but Phan is the third to be released from detention. Ched Nin was released permanently back to his family in February, and Sameth Nhean awaits a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) together with his family.
Phan (center) after his release with Nin (left) and Nhean (right)
A husband and father of a young daughter, Phan arrived to the U.S. as an infant and a refugee after his parents fled the Khmer Rouge genocide. He was born in a Thai refugee camp and has never set foot in Cambodia. The Trump administration sought to deport Phan for a 2009 conviction for property damage after he broke some windows at a bar where he was a regular patron. Phan was given a 365-day suspended sentence. The owner never filed charges and supported Phan’s request for relief from deportation.
Phan’s release came after his lawyer Bruce Nestor filed a successful habeas petition resulting in a federal judge ruling that his continued detention was unconstitutional. ICE was then compelled to release Phan after the community obtained the support of the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and a Judge to modify his original sentence to 364 days. Nestor said, “Mr. Phan was detained over a year at taxpayer expense and faced separation from his family because of a simple mistake made by his lawyers in 2009. While we celebrate his release, too many other immigrants are similarly detained and deported because of harsh and arbitrary immigration laws, where only a single day change in a jail sentence can mean the difference between deportation and freedom.”
Under current immigration laws passed in 1996, even lawful permanent residents and refugees can be deported for certain offenses if they are sentenced to at least 365 days. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s office recognized this arbitrary “life sentence” for Phan.  In a letter to the Federal Immigration Judge who ultimately granted Mr. Phan a hardship waiver, Choi wrote, “I do not believe that deporting Mr. Phan to a country where he has never lived and whose language he does not speak is a fair or just consequence.”
Julie Mao, attorney from the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, which supported the #ReleaseMN8 campaign’s advocacy strategy, said, “Mr. Phan’s release is the result of transformative community organizing that refused to resign to deportation, working in collaboration with dedicated lawyering. It shows that stopping deportations is possible even under Trump’s deportation agencies when communities organize, defend themselves, and engage the support of a local prosecutor.”
Quyen Dinh, the executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, added, “Our prayers of joy are with Chamroeun’s family and the #ReleaseMN8 community for the long hard battle they’ve fought not only for their families, but for so many others who continue to live their lives in limbo and fear. We applaud County Attorney John Choi’s courage to stand up for Chamroeun by recognizing how our harsh immigration laws result in inhumane and unjust consequences for families. We call on Members of Congress to throw out these arbitrary laws that have caused so much pain for Southeast Asian American communities, so that more mothers and fathers like Chamroeun can remain with the families who need them.”
Phan reunited with his daughter

SEARAC Denounces Trump Administration for Rescinding DACA

Today, the Trump Administration announced that it will end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While those currently protected under the program will have six months until their status expires, no new applications or renewals filed as of today will be processed.
Instituted by President Obama, DACA granted work authorization and temporary deportation relief to 800,000 immigrants, including a number of Vietnamese young people. In June, ten Republican attorneys general and the Governor of Idaho threatened a lawsuit challenging DACA if it was not repealed by the administration by September 5th. The Trump administration claims that the six month delay is meant to give Congress time to pass legislation to protect those covered by DACA.
“SEARAC is deeply disappointed with President Trump for caving under pressure instead of exercising the moral courage to do the right thing,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “If the administration wants Congress to pass legislation to protect these 800,000 people, then they should keep DACA intact until Congress is able to do so.”
Dinh continued, “There is very little difference between the young people of the DACA program and our refugee community – people looking for nothing more than freedom in this land of the free. We stand ready to fight and protect families that will suffer the repercussions of this heartless policy decision. We call on congressional leaders to defend the rights of all immigrants and refugees by enacting long-term, humane legislation that protects the vulnerable and keeps families together.”